Arik Hesseldahl

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Judge Orders Hewlett-Packard to Release Letter That Started the Hurd Affair

Finally, the public will be able to read the letter that cost Mark Hurd his job. A judge in the Delaware Chancery Court hearing a shareholder lawsuit ruled that Hurd hadn’t made a strong enough case for why the letter should be kept secret, as he argued in December.

“Whether or not to seal a document allegedly containing confidential information does not turn on whether its disclosure would cause embarrassment,” Judge Donald Parsons Jr. wrote in his opinion. HP and Hurd have 10 days to either appeal or comply.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking records related to Hurd’s departure from HP in August, including the letter from lawyers representing Jodie Fisher, a sometime actress who worked as a contractor for HP to its board of directors. The letter contained allegations of sexual harassment, which supposedly occurred during a period running from 2007 to 2009. It also alleged that during one of their visits in 2008, Hurd told Fisher about HP’s then-confidential plan to acquire IT services firm EDS. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also looking into that possibility.

Hurd had sought to keep the letter from being made public, and argued that since it is his personal property, he should be allowed to join the lawsuit as a party to that end. In the motion, Hurd’s lawyers argued that the letter was sent to “achieve private resolution of a potential dispute” between Hurd and Fisher.

The judge ordered that most of the letter be released, except for certain unspecified sections, and he issued a second order specifying which bits to redact. It reads as follows:

a. On page two, third full paragraph, second sentence: redact the words immediately following the phrase “You told Ms. Fisher that you were married with two daughters” until the following sentence beginning with “You asked Ms. Fisher . . . .”
b. On page four, third full paragraph: redact the entire final sentence following the sentence ending with “talked for about an hour.”
c. On page seven, first full paragraph: redact the entire rest of the paragraph following the first sentence ending with “a married man.”
d. On page seven, second full paragraph, first sentence: redact the entire first sentence, which begins with “You told.”

Hurd, you’ll remember, was cleared of sexual harassment following an internal HP investigation. He was, however, found to have falsified submitted inaccurate expense reports in an apparent attempt to cover up the nature of the relationship. He left HP in August and ended up going to work as president at HP rival Oracle.

Hurd’s lawyers sent us the following statement: “We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and will appeal the matter. We believe the letter, which was clearly marked ‘confidential,’ should remain that way. As has been admitted, the letter contains many inaccuracies. Mr. Hurd long ago resolved the matter and has moved on.”

The full 70-page order from the Judge is embedded below.

Hurd OrderDelaware